Boxing in the Ring of Religion

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Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

I have a story for you. A long time ago, in the 70s, my older brother and sister were fighting. Mick was 8 or 9, my sister Noel was maybe 5 or 6. I wasn’t even born yet. It was a holiday; some kind of family gathering was happening. Mick was teasing Noel relentlessly. She wasn’t able to get him to stop so Noel went from family member to family member trying to get someone to help her. She probably resorted to whining to get the adults to recognize her need.

The response? Well…. That’s the “crazy family” story. Someone gave her BOXING GLOVES and said: “Take care of it, kid.” And to be…fair, I guess?… they also gave Mick a pair of boxing gloves and said “settle it like adults”

Everyone was joking and laughing, ready to be entertained. I know. But to Noel, this was no laughing matter. She’d been the butt of the joke for long enough and now she was being given permission to take matters into her own hands. Literally. She took full advantage.

As soon as those laces were tied, her eyes locked on Mick and everything else faded away. You know that feeling? All you want to do is knock that mocking smile off someone’s face. That cute little girl made a beeline for him and POW. One shot. Done.

And boy was she in trouble! Sent to her room to think about what she’d done. She was so confused!! She’d caused some real damage, like she thought she was supposed to do, and now she’s in trouble?? They laced up her gloves, said “Go get ’em, Tiger” so she DID and now she was sent to her room, grounded for beating her brother senseless. What?!?

I was recently listening to Jen Hatmaker’s book, Fierce, Free and Full of Fire, and she said something that reminded me of this story. “I don’t tell my kids to not hit, and then outfit them in boxing gloves.” She was referring to the fact that sometimes religion teaches that in order to love God, we must hurt others. When in fact, that’s the last thing that God wants from us. What loving parent would tell us to Love One Another, and then say “Lay ’em flat, Tiger”?

And yet, that’s how some of us are taught. I know I was. I entered the ring of religion at 16 and I can remember my Coach saying “okay, you can train here for a while”. I was taught all kinds of amazing things, how to serve, how to love beyond myself, how to organize people and systems, how to build habits, how to reflect regularly, and aim towards progress.

I was also taught how to throw jabs and right hooks, in the name of doctrine and loving God. I like to be the best and so I learned how to use those moves well. Like my peers and community members, I soaked up the instruction and applied it with conviction.

I didn’t realize it hurt until the jabs were aimed at me after I came out.

· Hate the sin, not the sinner (JAB)

· We all have a cross to bear, this is yours (JAB)

· I love you, but I don’t support your behavior (RIGHT HOOK)

· Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith (hello, gaslighting JAB)

· In order to be right with God again, you need to confess all of your sins to me. Starting with who kissed who? Did you like it? Then what happened? Did she like it? Oh, and if I decide this is serious enough, you’ll need to tell a disciplinary council as well, made up of only men. You want to return to heaven, don’t you?(RIGHT HOOK)

· Stay in the church. If you leave the church, where will you go? There’s nowhere else to go. (more gaslighting JAB)

· If you love your children, take this secret to your grave. (UPPER CUT)

Knock Out.

As I’m on the floor of the ring, my arms too tired to defend myself anymore, and my eyes so swollen I can barely see, the face of my Coach is blurry and her voice sounds far away.

“You can leave the ring, Elena. I never wanted this. I’m standing on the outside and you can come too. I can hold the ropes up but I can’t come in and drag you out. You need to choose to leave.”

“But Coach, this ring is all I know. I haven’t been outside the ropes since I was 16. It’s dark, I have no one out there, I don’t want to be alone. I have NO idea what’s on the other side.”

“I’m on the other side, Elena. I’ve got you. Be brave. And live.”

You guys, I CRAWLED to the edge of that ring. There was no hooting or taunts, or cheers either. There was only silence. I fell off the edge, into the dark, and began to heal.

I am still learning how to unlace the gloves, how to get them off. I’m still learning how to not jab, at myself and others.

And those people I left behind in the ring, they had no idea. The coaches and the fighters, they were doing exactly as instructed. They were loving God. Upholding his doctrine. Spreading his Gospel. Building his Kingdom. They were just trying to fulfill the mission. Gloves on, go get ’em, Tiger.

So someday, when they’ve knocked out someone they love and they are SO confused, help them take their gloves off. It’s all they’ve ever known. Help them see they don’t have to hurt others to love God. Hold the ropes up for them as they’re brave enough to leave the bright lights of the ring and crawl into the darkness of the arena.

You got this, Tiger.

Nonprofit founder. Public speaker. Lesbian. Mom of 4. ExMormon. Flyfisher.

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